Monday, July 21, 2014

Floating Trumpets

I'm currently working on a book called The Madness of Angels.  It's the third in my Vermont Trilogy and goes back and forth over the last hundred and fifty years of one family's history.  Like many families in Vermont, this one was swept up in the horrors of the Civil War and its aftermath, particular the Spiritualist movement.

Coming initially out of Protestantism, The Spiritualist movement was in many ways a response to the collective mourning that was taking place in our shattered country.  Stories of spooks, haunts, spirits and such came over on the boats with the new arrivals to America and no doubt made for wonderful fireside stories, but Spiritualism was different.

People who could summon up and communicate with the dead began to come forward and there was a ready audience for what they had to say, given the horrible loss of life that had taken place during the war.  It started over in Upstate New York with the Fox sisters and spread throughout the country, but it remained most prevalent in the North East.

Most of the mediums were women, but there were some men as well and two of them were the Eddy brothers in Vermont.  By most reports they were virtually illiterate and thought to be simple-minded by many, but they were known to hold stage shows that featured spirits that people in the audience readily recognized, along with a favorite device of mediums, the floating trumpet.  Parading across the stage were what appeared Cossacks, Indians, soldiers and children, all looking suitably otherworldly.  Attempts were made to debunk them, but the attempts failed and people probably wouldn't have believed them anyway.  These were true believers who had come from near and far and they didn't come to be disappointed.

The Spiritualists provided hope and comfort to the people who had lost so much and so many.  Imagine if you will the reassurance of knowing that your darling son, that now silent young soldier, was happy in Summerland, the beautiful place where the dead, now alive again, enjoyed an eternity of joy and sunshine. It's what I would need to hear, I'm certain of that.

Spiritualism went on for quite awhile, not only communicating with the dead, but supporting causes such a universal suffrage for women and equality for the newly freed slaves.  Their followers fell away for the most part in the 20's and 30's, but an enclave held on and is still in operation.

The Lily Dale Spiritualist Assembly is located in Chautauqua  County, New York.  A picturesque little village, it is home to dozens of mediums. I'm going there this week-end with my dear friend Jeanette who is the daughter of my late and greatly missed friend Nedra Barrett.

I'm an agnostic, more or less, a skeptic, most of the time, so I'm calling this a research trip.  That being stated, I would love to know that Nedra is in Summerland, enjoying an eternity of youth and sunshine.  I might even settle for a floating trumpet.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Mothers

My oldest grandchild was born eight years ago today. 

I was invited to attend the birth, something I wouldn't have missed even if I hadn't been invited.  I'd been staying with my daughter and her husband in Boston for a few days, before to the relief of everyone, the midwife decided to induce and get the child into the world.

My daughter had just finished her Masters and was now a Nurse Practitioner. I'd told her for years about my delivery of her, which had been easy, and that combined with her professional knowledge made her fairly relaxed and more than ready to welcome her daughter. ( My son-in-law, the son of a Pediatric Cardiologist who specialized in high-risk newborns, was not quite so sanguine, but his wife was the picture of health, so he was encouraged to keep his concerns to himself.)

Things went along nicely if rather slowly.  Into the evening, tired from the contractions, just when they were becoming the most intense, it seemed that everything my daughter had read about hypo-birthing, relaxation, breathing and all the rest faded away under the reality that another human being was working its way out of her.

I'd been doing all those motherly things one does when your child gives birth, but for a few seconds I began to feel my own panic rising and I was overwhelmed with a sense that I didn't know what to do.  It only lasted a few seconds because then another set of hands took mine over. They were a set of small, cool hands that had soothed and calmed me my whole life and they belonged to my own mother.

My mother had been gone for about two years by then.  A Donna Reed look-alike as a young woman, only those of us who knew her best knew that she had a core of steel and the heart of a lioness.  Those small, cool hands of hers had soothed me on the street's hot asphalt when I'd been hit by a car as a child. They had brushed my cheek before I walked down the aisle as a bride and they'd given my daughter, this about-to-be mother her first bath. For months I'd been regretting that she wouldn't see her first great-grandchild, but I'd forgotten that this was a woman who hated to miss anything.

I felt those hands and I knew where to massage my daughter's back and I knew that everything was going to be fine.  I told my daughter and the midwife what has just happened and the midwife smiled.  "Doesn't surprise me", she said.  "We hear all kinds of things like that in here."

Today Maddie is eight.  Bright as can be, this year she got her ears pierced, read all of the Harry Potter books and became half-owner of miniature horse foal.  And she has her great-grandmother's smile and it wouldn't surprise me at all if has her hands as well.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Babes in the Woods

My good friend and fellow writer Denise Brown, has been working on a piece about me for The North Star Journal.  She asked me to describe my early life and a curious thing came out, something I'd never realized until this project began.

I didn't grow up in a bookish home, but I can vividly recall my first story hour at the library.  Sitting there on the floor I was immediately hooked on the story, Bartholomew Cubbins and the 500 Hats, and room, a whole room full of books.  When my father came home I pointed out the word 'the' in the paper he was reading. It probably took a few weeks at  least, but it seems that words and reading clicked for me, right then and there.

I realized when I answered Denise's question that it might have clicked a little too soon since I wasn't able to discern what was real and what wasn't.  Not a problem really and in so many ways, this blurring of the lines between fact and fiction has enriched my life beyond description.  It's left me open to possibilities that have let my imagination go to strange and wonderful places without that pesky anchor of reality hanging around my ankles.

This morning a woman pulled up in her car on the trail's parking area and reminded me that we'd met two years ago on the same trail.  This woman, also named Joyce, who will be referred to as Joyce.2 to avoid confusion, had been lost on the trail two years ago.  The trail is barely two miles long and it's virtually impossible to get lost, but lost she was.

I recall walking into the trail that day with some concern.  In the parking area was a car with the driver's side door hanging open.  I didn't fear for my safety, but I couldn't help but wonder if someone had stolen the car or if someone was ill.  I checked around the car, closed the door and started my hike.  About halfway through the trail I met this woman, this Joyce.2 and her dog.  I immediately asked if she was okay and she said she was, but wanted to know why I asked.  I told her about the car door being left  open, something she didn't realize she'd done, then we introduced ourselves.

After we got over the fact that we shared a name, she told me that she'd gotten turned around somehow and wasn't sure where she was on the trail, a trail she was familiar with.  I told her that pretty much the same thing had happened to me a year before. I mentioned that this particular hill has something of a reputation for weirdness, but didn't elaborate. We admired each others dogs, walked out and that was the end of it.

But this morning, we talked about it again.  Joyce.2 is up here for a few weeks every summer and she started asking questions around the village about Barr Hill and the trail's reputation.  She'd been told it was a power point, maybe a portal and I had to admit I'd heard the same things, but the things I'd heard were more nebulous.  I told her about the biggest talker in our village and how even he wouldn't say much about Barr Hill.

Joyce.2 described her experience of two years ago as feeling as though she'd been in a completely different time, almost as though she'd walked into a different dimension.  Lest she think she was the only one, I admitted that when I was lost, I couldn't find my tracks, even though there was snow on the ground.  Even my dog, a good tracker if there ever was one, kept walking in circles. And I told her that I too had felt as though I was in a parallel place, so familiar, but suddenly not the place I knew and loved.

I got out that late fall morning by announcing aloud that I wouldn't come back until the spring thaw. It worked because I looked up and finally I could see a blaze on one the trees showing me the trail.  Needless to say, I'd been looking for blazes for what must have been half an hour and hadn't see a thing.  Joyce.2 got out by my finding her.

Really, this how it happened and I would swear to the above in a court of law.  Not that it matters of course, since I've already admitted that for me, reality is nebulous thing.